Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for 22 September, 2013, Pentecost 18

Sermon for 22 September, 2013, Pentecost 18

A Sermon on Luke 16:1-15, The Parable of the Dishonest Stewarddishonest-steward

 

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The story in the Gospel reading this morning is simple enough to understand.  There’s this rich landowner who has a steward manager. The landlord somehow catches wind that his manager has been squandering his wealth and so he fires his manager.  The manager then wrestles with the problem of having been caught and what to do next.  He is out of work, he will be out of a place to live and because of his reputation, who will hire him?  After he rules out physical labor and begging, he happens upon an idea that might solve his problem.  The manager is not just shrewd but dishonest.  He will write down the debt of the landlords tenants, but here’s the shrewd part: he does it so that his landlord will be honored by the community.  It is this shrewdness that leads his master to commend him and leads to Jesus’ interesting summary of the parable to the disciples.  This is not an easy parable because it looks like the landlord is actually commending his servant for being dishonest.

The thing is, if this were a secular story told by some ancient sage the interpretation would be self-evident, right?  Something like, “Life is hard, or in this case business is hard, so do what you have to do.”  The problem is that this isn’t a secular story and Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty to His followers.  SO we’re left trying to make sense of it.  Now, we typically look at this parable from the perspective of the servant manager but what if we look at it from the perspective of the master?  Then the emphasis is not on the servant managers’ dishonesty but the mercy of the landlord.  To be fair, we are making an assumption that the landlord here is an honorable man, not some kind of mafia boss.  But this is a safe assumption.  In the parable just before this one, the parable of the prodigal son, the father who waits for his son to return is an honorable father.  The rich landlord’s mercy on the dishonest servant manager who squandered his estate is parallel to the father’s mercy to the prodigal son who squandered his share of the father’s estate.

The steward is most likely some sort of salaried estate agent, servant manager.  The debtors in the parable probably rent land from the rich landowner to grow crops and the debt is a predetermined portion of the harvest, whether olive oil or wheat.  When the report of the squandering comes to the landlord about his hired manager, he tells his steward he is fired but he does not jail or punish him in any way.  He should have; his estate has been squandered.  It is his right to do so but he is a merciful man.  It is precisely this mercy that the steward counts on when he chooses a solution to his problem.  And when we focus on the mercy of the landlord, the dishonesty of the steward becomes a moot point.

When the steward figures out he’ll be fired, he does not protest but he tries to figure out what’s next for him.  This is prudence.  What can he do to lessen the effect of the mess he’s caused himself?  He is so overwhelmed he even considers two ridiculous ideas, digging and begging, that for him are really impossibilities.  So like the prodigal son, who desired to eat the pigs’ food, the unrighteous steward has hit bottom and realizes he can do nothing for himself.  He has no real escape.  The steward’s great insight is to see that the answer to his problem must come from outside himself.  Remember, his entire plan is based on the fact that his master is an honorable and generous man who will respond in mercy.  The steward takes advantage of a brief period of time before the accounts are laid out and reckoned to meet with the master’s debtors and to do so in such a way that they think the master is acting in mercy toward them and not that the steward is acting out of desperation.  The debtors are willing to believe that this is the kind of thing that the master would do, just write down a big chunk of their debt, purely out of mercy.  Actually, it was supposed to happen by Jewish law.  Every seven years debts were forgiven.  Every 50, (or maybe 49, a multiple of seven) the land returned to the owners.  But back to this parable.  So, the whole community then is dependent on the generous and merciful landlord and has come to expect this kind of behavior toward them.  The steward is able to benefit because of his master’s reputation.

When the landlord finds out what his steward has done, he’s in a bind with really only two options.  He can cancel the debt forgiveness but if he does, his renters will turn on him and probably think he is no longer a generous and merciful master.  If he lets the adjustments stand he has further secured the goodwill of his tenants.  That then is his choice, if he is to be consistent with this own character.  He must commend the steward for acting shrewdly.  After all, the steward was counting on the trusted character of his master and staked everything on his mercy.  In fact, the landlord is put into a position where he has no choice but to praise the steward if he wants to maintain his reputation as a merciful lord.  Jesus clearly commends the steward but he commends him as a steward of unrighteousness.  But again, the steward’s prudence comes from trusting the mercy of his master and making the most of a terrible situation.

Jesus then summarizes this parable with an interesting phrase, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  Remember who’s listening to this parable, the disciples, yes, but also the Pharisees.  Jesus is encouraging his disciples to imitate the steward but not by being dishonest.  The sons of this age, are more prudent in worldly matters because they know how to bend the rules, how to be unrighteous to accomplish their goals.  Jesus wants his disciples to be unlearned in the practice of unrighteousness because it is only advantageous in this present age and is actually harmful for those whose hope is in the age to come.  The sons of light are to be prudent by recognizing that there will be a time of reckoning, at the last day and when that day comes, they need to focus carefully on where God’s mercy lives.  In this sense, then, the steward is praised not for his dishonesty but for knowing where his salvation was.

Dear Christian friends, the master is coming. Word has reached him how it is you have squandered your inheritance, the gifts he has given you.  He knows how you live.  He knows how you live with others.  He knows your hard and dishonest heart.  He knows how you have traded on his good name for many years to your own personal advantage but with no advantage to Him.  Caught red-handed in your dishonesty and the squandering of his wealth, you are fired.  Your only hope is not in any protest of your innocence.  Your only help comes from outside you, from trusting in the mercy of your lord when he comes to judge you.  Until that time comes, what is your best course of action?  Take advantage of this brief time before the Lord returns and reckons all accounts.  Use what you have been given to further the reputation of your Lord.  Christians who have control of even a tiny bit of worldly wealth need to use it in service to the kingdom of God, as a way of expressing love, both to God and to other people who have needs.  Jesus’ warning stands, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”

What are the true riches if not Christ and all those things that bring us to Christ, the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  To be rich toward God is to be a member of his kingdom through the riches you have been given.  To be faithful stewards of the true riches means to use those things you have been given to further the name of your Lord, Jesus Christ.  The fact is, everyone around you is in the same boat.  We are all debtors of the master who is coming; we all stand as those who have squandered the wealth we have been given.  There is no better way to conduct oneself than to write down the debt of another.  Jesus put it a little differently when He was teaching us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We serve a master who is merciful and generous.  And when he comes you will be commended for trusting in his generosity and mercy.  Amen.

Let us pray.  Deliver us dear Lord, from the love of money, and increase our love for you and for one another.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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